Category Archives: Food-borne Infections

Illnesses due to raw milk on the rise

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

The average annual number of outbreaks due to drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk have more than quadrupled – from an average of three outbreaks per year during 1993-2006 to 13 per year during 2007-2012. Overall, there were 81 outbreaks in 26 states from 2007 to 2012.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.The outbreaks, which accounted for about 5 percent of all food-borne outbreaks with a known food source, sickened nearly 1,000 people and sent 73 to the hospital. More than 80 percent of the outbreaks occurred in states where selling raw milk was legal.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory lifted

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Photo: shrff14 on Flickr

Photo: shrff14 on Flickr

The City of Mercer Island announced Wednesday it has lifted the current Boil-Water Advisory in consultation with the state Department of Health. Restaurants may reopen after speaking directly with a Health Inspector from Public Health – Seattle & King County and following completion of step-by-step procedures.

For the sixth day in a row, water-sample test results are clear: all 18 of the latest samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform, and chlorine levels were adequate.  This brings the total number of samples collected to more than 100 over 6 days.

Mayor Bruce Bassett said: “I know I can speak for the whole community when I say that this day has been a long time coming. I’d like to thank staff and partner agencies for their extensive commitment to not only resolving this incident and implementing corrective measures, but also ensuring the safety of the community. We all look forward to life returning back to normal.” Continue reading

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory remains in effect

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Mon Oct 6, Noon – For the fourth day in a row, the City of Mercer Island announces that the latest water-sample test results are clear: all 18 of the samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform.

This includes seven samples collected with permission from residential properties. A map of the locations is available at: www.mercergov.org/files/Boil-Water_Public_Map_SampleSites_IGS.pdf

As elevated chlorination spreads ever further through the water mains, and ongoing investigative work continues to rule out many possible sources of water contamination, the multi-agency task force is now discussing the threshold needed to return to normal operations.

We need to finish the super-chlorinating process and implement our Response Plan to the point where we have either found the source or ruled out enough possibilities to feel sufficiently confident that if E. coli once existed in our system, it is now gone due to the various measures we have at this time however, the boil-water advisory is still in place.

Yesterday, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported a potential case of E. Coli infection in an Island resident; the patient has not been hospitalized.  Lab tests are still pending, and it is not possible to say whether there is any link to Mercer Island water at this point.

To report illness to Public Health, residents should call 206-296-4774.

Mercer Island School District plans to continue a regular school schedule using “heat and eat” food and special water procedures, approved by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Unless otherwise notified, parents should visit the school’s website (www.mercerislandschools.org) for the latest information. Continue reading

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory remains in place

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City Reveals Sunday Test Results and Next Actions
Boil-Water Advisory Still in Place

Drinking Water WarningSun Oct 5, 12:15 pm – The City of Mercer Island announces that the latest test results from water samples collected Saturday have been analyzed and are clear: all 18 of the samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform.

This includes seven samples collected with permission from residential properties.

Today’s test results mark the third day of samples free of contamination; at this time however, the boil-water advisory is still in place.

This morning, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported a potential case of E. Coli illness infection in an Island resident; the patient has not been hospitalized.

At this point, it is not possible to say whether there is any link to Mercer Island water; lab tests are pending. Contact Public Health for more information.

The City and WA State Department of Health continue to review implementation of the response plan and water quality test results in order to determine the earliest that the boil-water advisory can be lifted safely.

Mercer Island School District plans to continue a regular school schedule using “heat and eat” food and special water procedures, approved by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Unless otherwise notified, parents should visit the school’s website (www.mercerislandschools.org) for the latest information. Continue reading

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New shellfish safety map shows risks in real-time

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From the Washington State Department of Health

shellfish mapA new online shellfish safety map gives shellfish harvesters an up-to-date look at biotoxins, pollution, and bacteria levels at public beaches or on their private property.

Beach names, nearby landmarks, and specific addresses are searchable to help provide real-time information on shellfish safety risks.

The new shellfish safety map was developed to provide current information about areas where water quality conditions and public health risks are evaluated by the Department of Health. Continue reading

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Grilling tips from the Department of Health

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State officials advise: be known for great grilling, not making people sick

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Food safety experts from the Department of Health want people to know how to protect themselves and their loved ones from foodborne illnesses, especially when preparing foods for picnics and barbecues during warm weather.

“Bacteria in or on food can multiply quickly in warm weather,” explains State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “By making sure food is prepared, cooked, and served properly you can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and be well-known for great barbecues and picnics instead of for making people sick.”

Safeguards can be taken when preparing foods to be eaten outdoors, such as using a food thermometer to make sure that meat and poultry are cooked at the correct temperature. Continue reading

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Know your hepatitis ABCs for Hepatitis Awareness Month – CDC

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Graphic: Millions of Americans are living with viral hepatitis.

  • Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US do occur.
  • Hepatitis B: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have higher rates.
  • Hepatitis C: New treatments can cure the disease.

Viral hepatitis is a major global health threat and affects over 4.4 million Americans. In observance of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, here are brief overviews of each of the three most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US can and do occur

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Do not eat raw clover sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, health officials warn

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Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coliO121 Infections Linked to Raw Clover Sprouts

Advice to Consumers – from the CDC

  • The Washington State Department of HealthExternal Web Site Icon and the Idaho Department of Health and WelfareExternal Web Site Icon are advising people not to eat raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.
    • People who have these sprouts at home should not eat them and should throw them out, even if some of the product has been eaten and no one has become ill.
  • Contact your health care provider if you think you may have become ill from eating raw clover sprouts.
    • People usually get sick from STEC 2-8 days (average of 3-4 days) after swallowing the organism (germ).
    • Most people infected with STEC develop diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps.
    • Most people recover within a week.
    • People of any age can become infected. Very young children and the elderly are more likely than others to develop severe illness and complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.
  • Always practice food safety for sprouts.
    • Sprouts are a known source of foodborne illnessExternal Web Site Icon.
    • Children, older adults, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).
    • Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking thoroughly kills the harmful bacteria.
    • Persons who think they might have become ill from eating potentially contaminated raw clover sprouts should consult their health care providers.

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E. coli outbreak linked to raw clover sprouts

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Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!Clover sprouts eaten raw are likely source of E. coli illness outbreak

Washington state health officials are warning consumers not to eat raw clover sprouts from an Idaho producer that have been linked to an outbreak of E. coli infections in the Northwest.

The sprouts have been linked to seven confirmed and three probable cases of E. coli O121 illnesses in Washington and Idaho.

Five of those patients were hospitalized; there have been no deaths.

For more details about the outbreak:  Continue reading

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Pollution halts Vaughn Bay shellfish harvest: 14 other areas threatened

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Pollution to close shellfish harvest in one area; 14 others listed as threatened
Fecal bacteria levels force new restrictions to protect shellfish consumers

From the Washington State Department of health:

Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!OLYMPIA — The state Department of Health has closed harvesting in part of Vaughn Bay in Pierce County due to high levels of fecal bacteria. Health officials also identified 14 more of Washington’s 101 commercial shellfish growing areas that could be closed in the future if fecal pollution continues to get worse.

“The good news is that the pollution problems in almost all these areas can be found and fixed,” said Bob Woolrich, Growing Area section manager. “There have been many successful pollution correction projects using partnerships with local and state agencies, Tribes, and others.”

The agency shellfish program evaluates the state’s shellfish growing areas every year to see if water quality is approaching unsafe limits. If so, areas are listed as “threatened” with closure.

Shellfish harvesting areas threatened with closure include:

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Keep germs off the guest list at holiday meals

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Uncooked turkey in a pot

Keep all your guests healthy by following these food safety tips from the Snohomish Health District.

Proper planning.

Make sure your kitchen has everything you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for cooling and storage, paper towels and soap.

Store foods in the refrigerator at 41°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.

Safe shopping. 

At the grocery store, bag raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t buy bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the store.

Always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours. Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or under cold-running water. Never defrost the turkey at room temperature.

Working in the kitchen. 

Got extra helpers in the kitchen? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, visiting the restroom, or changing a baby’s diapers. Keep all work surfaces sanitized, too. Spray or wipe on a solution of 1 tsp of unscented bleach per gallon of cold water.

When baking holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Make eggnog with pasteurized eggs and pasteurized milk, or simply buy it ready-made with those ingredients.

Adding a nip of brandy or whiskey will not kill the germs. When making homemade eggnog, be sure to cook the mixture to 165°F, then refrigerate.

Cook. 

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the

harmful bacteria that cause illness. Cook your turkey to a minimum of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, including the stuffing.

The healthiest method is to prepare and cook the stuffing separately – outside the bird. Test the bird’s temp in the thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the inside. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer rest against bone.

Potluck contributions. 

Remember to keep hot foods hot (135°F or higher) and cold foods cold (41°F or below). To help keep foods hot wrap dishes in foil, cover them in heavy towels, or put them in insulated containers designed to keep food hot.

For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs, or use an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 41°F or lower, especially if traveling for more than half an hour.

Buffet, anyone? 

If you set up food in a buffet line, take care to put spoons in each dish for self-service, and assist children in filling their plates. No fingers allowed!

Wrap it up! 

Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with the date it was prepared. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 41°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an at-home food-borne illness.

Eat cooked turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days and gravy in 1-2 days. Cooked turkey keeps up to 4 months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, and bring gravy and sauces to a boil before serving. Microwaved leftovers shouldn’t have cold spots (bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.

Following these food safety steps at your house will make the meal a happy memory for everyone. Happy, healthy holidays from the Snohomish Health District!

Additional resources:

Free kit

The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit at www.holidayfoodsafety.org provides food safety advice and meal planning in one convenient location.

The kit includes information on purchasing, thawing and cooking a turkey; a holiday planner with menus, timelines, and shopping lists; and dozens of delicious (and food-safe) recipes. ]

The kit also has arts and crafts activities and downloads for kids so they can join the holiday fun.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.

Escherichia Coli_NIAID E Coli BacteriaNothing can ruin a party quite like food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 31 pathogens known to cause food-borne illness.

Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States due to food-borne diseases.

Typical symptoms of food-borne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps which can start hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment.

But food-borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition or medication that weakens the immune system.

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Federal shutdown alarms state health officials

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Photo: James Gathany/CDC

Photo: James Gathany/CDC

By Melissa Maynard
StatelineStaff Writer

This week more than 11,000 U.S. Muslims are expected to join millions of other pilgrims in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. When the Americans return home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments will be watching for any sign of the MERS virus that has caused severe acute respiratory illness in 140 people since 2012, killing about half of them.

But because of the shutdown of the federal government, about 9,000 of the CDC’s 15,000 workers have been furloughed. James Blumenstock, chief of public health practice for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said states are concerned that the absence of those workers might slow down identification and response to MERS cases if the virus spreads to the U.S.

Since the shutdown, the CDC’s bi-weekly conference calls with state health officials to share new information about MERS and other emerging global threats have stopped, Blumenstock said. “Since Oct. 1, we have not scheduled one or had the opportunity to talk to anyone about scheduling the next one.”

MERS is just one of many possible public health risks state health officials are worried about handling without the full support of the CDC and other federal agencies. Another big one within U.S. borders is the flu season that began Oct. 1.

In a Wednesday conference call with state health officials from across the country, CDC Director Tom Frieden assured states that the agency would be available to assist in emergency situations, but acknowledged that its response might be slower because of the shutdown.

“We have been told that that if we needed support for a large-scale event, it would require pulling staff back in, and that the response time could be delayed,” said Wendy Braund, Wyoming’s state health officer. “That is a very real concern to us.”

CDC in the States

States rely on the CDC to step in when outbreaks cross state lines and for technical support and lab testing when unusual situations arise. The federal agency also helps fund and staff a range of programs, embedding its own experts in state health agencies to help with a range of programs from immunizations to AIDS prevention. Many of these people have been furloughed.

Also, certain public health functions rely heavily on federal grants, which will become more critical if the shutdown continues. Hawaii State Epidemiologist Sarah Park was handling multiple investigations when she learned that her work may be interrupted because her division gets 90 percent of its money from the federal government.

“Basically, toward the end of last week, it was realized that … the state had only sufficient federal funds drawn down to make the Oct 5th payroll,” she said in an email.

“If the federal shutdown doesn’t resolve soon,” she said, “we could be facing a major crisis whether because staff have to be laid off and/or because we aren’t able to place vaccine orders or have them completed because the federal system is down.”

CDC officials acknowledged the challenges the shutdown has created for its partners at the state level. “We’re actually really concerned about what is happening with the states, and down the road if this continues,” said John O’Connor of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Emergency Response

The CDC can call back employees to respond to emergencies, according to Barbara Reynolds, a CDC crisis communication specialist. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday issued a public health alert for an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella linked to chicken produced by Foster Farms in California.

The outbreak has sickened 278 consumers in 17 states. In response, the CDC called back two-thirds of the 30-person team that tracks foodborne illnesses. It has updated its website with details of its ongoing investigation into the outbreak, including a map detailing cases by state.

Still, Reynolds acknowledged it’s not the same as when the CDC is fully functioning. “We have 9,000 people from CDC furloughed, which means 9,000 fewer people to answer the phones and take phone calls from people in state agencies,” she  said. “Some of that collaboration is just gone right now.”

In Oregon, eight salmonella cases have been linked to the outbreak. Katrina Hedberg, the state’s chief epidemiologist and health officer, said the CDC’s national databases connected the salmonella strain to Foster Farms based on evidence from cases in other states. “Looking at our Oregon cases, it wouldn’t be obvious that they were linked,” she said.

But the state received less information than it would have from a fully functioning CDC. “Normally we’d be hearing about this before, and we’d be having conference calls beforehand,” she said. Instead, Hedberg said the general public learned about the outbreak only shortly after she and her staff did – and from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service rather than the CDC.

Flu Season

One of the most significant looming public health threats is the flu. State health officials are concerned about how the shutdown will affect their ability to fight its spread, since they rely on the CDC to track and monitor cases to better prepare their public health response.

Michael Cooper, Alaska’s deputy state epidemiologist, said his department has received “a flurry of emails about how CDC influenza monitoring and surveillance staff would be at minimal levels and online applications might not be functional for recording data that demonstrates national/state activity related to influenza.”

Blumenstock, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said there are critical flu-related functions the CDC cannot currently perform because of the shutdown.

For example, at this point in the season, the CDC typically tests early flu strains to see how well they match with the seasonal vaccine. That information gives public health officials important clues about what to expect from flu season and how to adjust their strategies.

The CDC also conducts an annual public awareness campaign, tests early cases of the flu to determine resistance to antivirals and provides regular surveillance information to states.

Much of that assistance simply isn’t happening, Blumenstock said. “Depending on how bad flu season turns out to be, that could provide increased risk of illness or death if CDC doesn’t get back in business.”

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Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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Shellfish infections running double summer average in King County

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girl-eating-oysters

Girl eating oysters – Jan Steen 1668

A saltwater bacteria has sickened more than twice the number of people in King County this summer than typically is reported during this period – leading health officials to warn of the dangers of eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

During July, there were 13 confirmed or probable cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection in King County, compared to an average of four reported in that month in recent years.

Since the beginning of August, an additional eight cases have been confirmed, while typically King County would see six for the entire month.

“This is probably the tip of the iceberg. For every case that is reported, an estimated 142 additional cases go unreported,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease for Public Health–Seattle & King County.

People typically get vibriosis from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters, that have Vibrio bacteria in them.

Those with pre-existing medical conditions or who take antacids regularly are at higher risk for illness from Vibrio infection.

Cooking shellfish until the shells just open is not enough to kill Vibrio bacteria. Shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F for at least 15 seconds.

Symptoms of Vibrio infection can include moderate to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and headache.  Vibrio bacteria also can cause a skin infection when open wounds are exposed to warm seawater.

“We have warnings on menus about the risks of eating raw shellfish, but people might not always get the message or know that the risks are much higher this time of year,” Duchin said.

Vibrio bacteria occur naturally in marine waters, and they grow more rapidly during the warm months.  That’s why Vibrio levels in shellfish increase during the summer, and infections in humans normally peak in late summer. It’s possible that the early warm streak in July has led to a longer period of Vibrio presence in local waters. Once water temperatures begin to cool in October, the bacteria decline.

The worst outbreak in recent years came in 2006, when Washington had 80 lab-confirmed Vibrio cases and King County had 36 confirmed cases.

In 2012, King County had 26 cases of vibriosis for the entire year; so far in 2013, 22 confirmed or probable cases have already been reported.

To prevent Vibrio infections:

a.      Thoroughly cook shellfish before eating

b.      Do not rinse cooked shellfish in seawater, which can re-contaminate them

c.      Keep raw or cooked shellfish well-refrigerated before serving

d.      Do not harvest shellfish from areas where harvesting has been closed

(see, http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Shellfish.aspx)

e.       Avoid swimming in warm seawater if you have open wounds.

 

For more information, see:

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Rise in illnesses due to eating raw or undercooked oysters

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Vibrio parahaemolyticus - Janice Carr/CDC

Vibrio parahaemolyticus – Janice Carr/CDC

Recent cases highlight need for awareness and prevention

More than 40 people across the state have gotten sick with vibriosis so far this year, mostly due to eating raw or undercooked oysters.

State health officials expect the number of illnesses to rise in the next few weeks due to projected warm temperatures and midday low tides.

The Department of Health recommends cooking all shellfish in the summer months to kill the Vibrio bacteria, making them safe to eat.

“We’ve had a warm summer, which increases the risk that eating raw oysters might make people sick,” said Jerrod Davis, director of the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection. “It’s much safer to eat cooked oysters, especially this time of year.”

Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria are found naturally in the environment; they thrive in warm temperatures.

When midday low tides coincide with warm weather, the bacteria can grow quickly, raising the risk of vibriosis illness among people who eat raw or undercooked oysters.

Vibriosis typically causes watery diarrhea, often along with nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vomiting, fever, and chills. Symptoms generally appear within 12 to 24 hours after eating infected shellfish.

Vibriosis is often mild to moderate, with symptoms lasting from two to five days. It can be life threatening to people with weak immune systems or chronic liver disease.

People who take antacids can also get extremely ill. People in these risk groups should avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

Recreational harvesters should take extra precautions when gathering oysters in the summer. Oysters should be put on ice or refrigerated as soon as possible after being collected. S

hellfish should be harvested as soon as the tide recedes, avoiding oysters that may have been exposed for unknown periods of time. Once collected, oysters should be cooked at 145° F for 15 seconds to destroy Vibrio bacteria.

Don’t rinse fully-cooked oysters with seawater; it can contaminate them.

The Department of Health has been sending notices to shellfish growers recommending extra precautions during periods of low midday tides and warm weather, and weekly lab test results showing the levels of Vibrio bacteria in growing areas.

A weekly report summarizing illnesses is also sent, allowing growers to make informed decisions about when and where to harvest safely.

Public health officials recently finalized a list of “best management practices” to help shellfish businesses operate using the best methods known for ensuring healthy shellfish harvesting.

Shellfish harvesting businesses have special control measures in place during the summer months to keep people who choose to eat raw oysters from getting sick.

When these measures are not enough to prevent illnesses, commercial harvest areas undergo more stringent measures or are closed.

The Department of Health closes commercial growing areas when Vibrio levels are high, or when there are four confirmed vibriosis illnesses within a 30-day period linked to commercially harvested oysters.

Currently, Hammersley Inlet and several parts of Hood Canal, including Dabob Bay and Quilcene Bay, are closed due to high Vibrio levels. Oakland Bay and Totten Inlet growing areas are also closed due to recent illnesses.

Before heading to the beach, people who gather their own shellfish should always check our shellfish safety website to find out if there are any health advisories or closures in effect for vibrio, pollution, biotoxins, or other health risks.

Current shellfish safety information is available on the agency’s Office of Shellfish and Water Protection website and from our toll-free hotline, 1-800-562-5632.

 

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Fair season is here: win the blue ribbon for health and safety

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Rooster looking through the wires of a cage

From the Washington State Department of Health

Hanging out with the goats, poultry, and cows can be the highlight of any trip to the local fair. Yet fair animals can also spread certain diseases.

“Going to see the animals at the fair is a treasured tradition for many families,” said Ron Wohrle, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “But even healthy animals can spread E. coli and Salmonella bacteria to people, which can make them sick. By following some basic safety tips you can enjoy the animals at the fair and stay healthy.”

Many kinds of animals can carry dangerous bacteria and viruses. The germs can be in their saliva, on their coats, and on surfaces contaminated by their waste. People can pick up those germs when they touch the animals or their surroundings. Most get sick by putting their hands or a contaminated object in their mouth or nose.

An estimated half-million people in the U.S. get sick every year because of a visit to animals at a fair, petting zoo, or other exhibit. Washington rules require signs warning people of the health risks, along with hand washing or sanitization stations near animal exhibits. Pregnant women, older adults, kids under five, and anyone who has an underlying illness should be especially careful to follow posted precautions.

Washing hands with running water and soap is the best way to avoid getting sick. It’s especially important after touching animals or their surroundings and before eating or drinking.

Children under five should be watched at all times while they visit animals to make sure they don’t put their hands or objects, like a pacifier, in their mouth while interacting with animals.

Stroller wheels can also pick up germs from animal areas and have been tied to illnesses in the past.

Call your health care provider immediately if someone in your family becomes sick after coming in contact with animals.

The Department of Health investigates cases and outbreaks of animal-related illnesses and works to make sure that places where animals are displayed follow state regulations. Information on staying healthy around animals is available online.

Photo courtesy of Christine Landis

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